You are not alone
Published 2 months ago Friday, April, 9, 2021 by judo2000 | 797 Views | 0 Comments |
Most -in fact all - of my articles have been centered around judo training and competition. This one is going to be a little different. I want to talk about mental illness and depression. Before I get into the article, I want to preface this by saying that I am in no way a mental health professional, not even close. I took a few lower and mid-level psychology classes in college, but that’s it. The things I’m going to say in this article are my thoughts and opinions on the subject after gaining a much better understanding of depression and mental illness over the past several years. So, again, don’t take anything I say as fact, these are just my thoughts on the subject.
In September of 2019 the judo world was shocked when 2020 Olympic hopeful, Jack Hatton took his own life at the age of 24. It was an obvious shock when a kid who, from everything I’ve read about him was a great kid and really well liked, takes his life. Looking back people said he would have his up and down days and that his down days were really low, but they chalked it up to an elite athlete who was under a lot of pressure and that was just one of his quirks. I didn’t know Jack, but I know people who did and one is a kid he mentored, who’s father told me that Jack would often send his son encouraging texts. I did get to see him fight in Azerbaijan earlier that year. It really got me thinking, because, as I said before, I have had a lot of experience with depressive and suicidal thoughts with people I love.
The thing that struck me early on is that everything seems fine. Often, they carry on like everything is fine, never saying anything to make anyone believe they are hurting. Once it came to light, I was able to see in hindsight that, while there was nothing obvious, I could look at behavior and realize that there were signs but they were so slight that I didn’t see them for anything other than just a down day. Everyone has down days, right? I do. There are days when I feel down or I feel like I don’t have any friends and I worry that I’m not a good enough coach, etc. But that is just self-doubt that creeps in and it goes away. When someone is clinically depressed or suffering from mental illness they learn to cope with it and hide it, but I believe it is always there. I’d always thought that everyone gets depressed, but you pick yourself up, get over it, and move on with your life. I had no idea what I was talking about, because until late in college and then later in my life, I had never really been close to anyone who was actually depressed, clinically depressed.
What I learned is that often, when someone is truly depressed they can get so low, they feel that if they just stopped existing, no one would care. No matter how much you tell them that you care and logically, they may know, but depression is not logical. They can know, actually know that people care but when they get down they think they are alone and that no one would miss them. I have had many heartbreaking conversations over the past several years where people I love and that know that I love them will say that if they disappeared, no one would care. It truly breaks my heart to think that anyone goes through life feeling that way, but it’s even harder when it someone you know and love. The problem I have is that I want to fix things and it makes me feel that I have failed someone if I cannot fix the problem. That of course it not logical either. If you are having trouble in a relationship, I can give you advice. You probably want to get it from someone else but I will give you advice if you ask for it. If you have having trouble with a technique or in your training in judo, I can help you. With depression I can give you advice but I’m not trained in psychology, and until recently, my thinking was just suck it up and move on, everyone gets depressed. Even when I learned that that thinking comes from ignorance, I didn’t know what to say to fix the problem.
I have learned that I cannot fix it, but what I can do is be supportive and pay attention to the signs that things are getting bad again and seek help from a trained professional. I learned that I don’t have to have all the answers, I just have to be supportive and know where to turn when things get to a point that my support while helpful, is no longer enough. I learned that even when you know someone really well you don’t always know when they are hurting. But if you have never experience depression or known someone who deals with depression, why would you?
One of the things I think makes it hard is the stigma that comes with mental illness. People act like someone who is severely depressed is just weak and should just get over it. I use to be one of those people, and again, it comes from ignorance, not knowing any better. Now I realize that mental illness is not a choice, no one chooses to be depressed. We don’t look down on someone for catching the flu, or now COVID-19. Mental illness is just that, an illness. If you get the flu or COVID, you might struggle through you day, as many people with depression do, but you can’t just decide, you know what, I’m not going to have COVID today, I’m just going to get over it and move on. Illness does not work that way, not the flu, not COVID, and not depression.
Now for the solution. Well, I don’t have one, but here are my thoughts and what I have been doing. First and foremost, and this is for everyone, not just people dealing with mental illness. If someone matters to you, let them know. Tomorrow is not promised. If I die tomorrow I want to make sure that the people I love know it, and if someone I love dies, I want them to know I loved them. Over the past several years I have lost my mother, then her sister a year to-the-day later, then 2 years later, my grandmother. Last year, we weren’t close, but I lost my father too. Then a few weeks ago, we had a huge scare with my older brother, who we thought might have cancer. Thank God it wasn’t and he had something that resembles lung cancer but is totally treatable. So, if you love someone, reach out and let them know.
Second, we need to somehow remove the stigma associated with mental illness so people are not afraid to reach out when they are hurting. Imagine feeling that no one would care if you died or worrying that you will be thought of as weak if you admit to being clinically depressed. I don’t know how we go about doing this but my attitude has changed, and I try to make sure anyone who knows me realizes they will not be judged if they reach out to me for help.
Let people know you care and that you are there for them if they need you. One of the things I started doing after what happened with Jack Hatton was I first talked to my club at practice and make sure they all know that I care about them, not just as judo athletes or members of my club, but as people. I let them know that if at any time they feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to turn, they can turn to me. I did that in person but I also periodically post messages to our Facebook group page letting them know that I care and asking them to please reach out either to me or someone if they feel down. I still do it periodically especially since I read that depression and suicides skyrocketed with the COVID lockdowns over the past year. I don’t know if those messages are helping and hopefully no one in our group needs to see them, but I would rather post them and have no one need them than to have someone feel alone and that no one cares and not post something. I just want them to know that I do care, and I do love them, and when they aren’t in practice, I notice. I notice as a coach wondering why they are not in practice, but, especially these days, I notice as someone who truly cares for and is here for them.
If you are reading this and know someone who seems off or down, maybe it is just a bad day, but maybe not, reach out just so they know there is someone who cares. If you are reading this and you feel alone that that no one cares, first know that people care, I care, and second, please reach out to someone for help. I tell me students that they can always come to me but if they don’t feel comfortable coming to me, go to someone, anyone, and seek professional help. There is no shame in asking for help. We all need help from time to time.
If you are thinking of hurting yourself, please don’t. Please seek professional help. If you don’t know where to go you can call the national suicide prevention line at 800-273-8255 24 hours a day and you can remain anonymous. No matter how hard things get, the people in your life do care, please don’t suffer alone. Reach out and let someone help you!
Please share this article and most importantly please let the people in your life know that they matter to you and that you love them.
Thanks for reading,